Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 16, 2009

Afternoon with a Sora

Filed under: Birds, digital benefits, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, technique — richditch @ 6:06 pm
Sora in grass

Sora in grass

Some photography sessions are more memorable than others, and yesterday was one of those that will stick in my mind for quite some time.

As an active birder for almost 40 years now I’ve seen my share of Sora rails, but like most people my views of them have mostly been fleeting glimpses on the other side of a pond or marsh. A surprise for me came when I moved from NJ to AZ: I actually got to see more Soras in dry AZ than I’d seen in wet NJ. I figured that was because there is so much less habitat for Soras in AZ that these rails have less cover to hide in here. I even got to see them at closer range here than I ever did in NJ.

The Water Ranch at Gilbert, AZ, has a lot of good habitat for these birds and I’ve seen a few there since it opened in late 1999. But never close, so my photos of them haven’t been something to show. Until now.

I got a call from a photographer friend alerting me to this bird that was out on the mudflat and didn’t seem to care about the photographers, the numerous family groups with screaming kids, or their dogs. I couldn’t go to see it until about 3 hours later so I was worried that I’d missed it. But there it was just a few feet away from the guy with a kid in a baby stroller entertained by a pair of Canada Geese. I set up on the bank just in front of the stroller with my tripod low and started taking photos. The rail gave me 90 minutes, during which I shot at first with a 300 and 2x converter, then the 300 and 1.4x converter, then the 300 alone, and even for a while with my 105 macro lens!

The sky was heavy overcast, so I shot at ISO 320 and later at ISO 400. Contrast was low, and the sky reflecting in the water looked gray rather than blue. I decided to do some shots with fill flash, but when I mounted my SB-800 flash the batteries were completely flat, so I had to make due entirely with the natural light. I used the spot meter in the Nikon D200 a lot, instead of the matrix meter I usually rely upon. This was needed to keep the bright water from causing under exposure whenever the Sora moved to the edge of the mud. I’ve got the assignable function button on the front of my D200 programed to switch in the spot meter for just such situations – a lot easier than trying to twist the selector on the back of the body in my opinion.

I took a lot of shots – a lot more than I normally do. But why not with digital? This was too good of an opportunity to not take as many frames as possible in the field and then edit everything at home. I tossed out about half of the shots with the first crude review, and am only about 1/4 of the way through the remaining shots.

Processing has been straightforward: Adobe Camera Raw to tweak brightness and add a little contrast (to compensate) for the flat lighting), and my usual minimal work in Photoshop CS3 with adjustment layers for Levels, Saturation, and Curves.

Sora side view

Sora side view

Sora rails are 8.75 inches long; the same as a Red-winged Blackbird. They feed along the edges of ponds and typically stay out of sight in the pond-side vegetation where there cryptic plumage makes them difficult to see. This side view was taken with a 300/2.8 plus matching 1.4x converter (420mm equivalent lens), with the rail feeding a few feet away from me sitting in the open.

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1 Comment »

  1. Rich

    Congrats on getting such lovely images of this secretive bird!

    Comment by Mia — February 16, 2009 @ 6:28 pm


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